Court Records: Miss. Lawyer to Take 5th in State Farm Suit

February 1, 2008

Plaintiffs attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, facing corruption and contempt charges in unrelated cases, will invoke the Fifth Amendment if forced to testify in a federal lawsuit involving Mississippi’s attorney general, according to court records.

Scruggs is scheduled for a deposition today in a lawsuit filed by State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. The insurer accuses Attorney General Jim Hood of using the threat of a criminal investigation to force settlements in civil litigation over Hurricane Katrina damages.

In court documents filed Wednesday, State Farm said Scruggs and Hood were conspirators in an “extortion conspiracy.”

Hood issued a statement denying the allegations.

“In an attempt to goad the media into writing another article about their suit, State Farm continues to add more irrelevant, inflammatory and frivolous allegations,” Hood said. “I hope the learned members of the media recognize this fact and refuse to fall for their game.”

An attorney for Scruggs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, a copy of an e-mail from his attorney, John Keker, was entered into court records. The e-mail from Keker to a State Farm attorney says Scruggs does not plan to participate in Friday’s deposition because Keker will be out of the country and unable to represent him.

Scruggs will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if forced to submit to questioning in the State Farm lawsuit, Keker’s e-mail said.

State Farm sued Hood in September, accusing him of using the criminal investigation to coerce the company to settle lawsuits with private attorneys.

The insurer also claims Hood violated his part of a January 2007 settlement in which the Mississippi attorney general’s office agreed to end the criminal investigation of the Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm.

A judge last year ordered Hood to temporarily halt his criminal investigation. Scruggs’ deposition is just the latest in the legal wrangling that has followed.

State Farm said in a motion filed Wednesday that the fact that Hood wants to stop the deposition “is very telling indeed.”

“General Hood is clearly concerned that his co-conspirator will either tell the truth or invoke the Fifth Amendment on specific questions related to their extortion conspiracy,” the motion said.

Hood spokeswoman Jan Schaefer told The Associated Press that “we have not filed any motions to stop testimony in this case.”

But one of Hood’s attorneys, J. Lawson Hester, wrote in a letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael T. Parker: “I am in no way attempting to be obstructionist as regards the taking of Mr. Scruggs’ deposition, but the realistic eventuality that this deposition will not yield a benefit to either party is now known clearly to both sides and I would like to avoid as much unnecessary expense and burden to my client as is possible, consistent with the rights of the respective parties.”

The letter from Hester is in court records.

Scruggs, one of the most influential plaintiffs lawyers in the country, is facing federal charges that he conspired with several associates to bribe a judge in an unrelated dispute over $26.5 million in fees from a mass settlement of Katrina claims. And he’s facing contempt charges in Alabama for allegedly violating a federal judge’s order by giving leaked Katrina assessment documents to Hood rather than returning them to the company from which they were taken.

Scruggs has denied wrongdoing in either case.

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